They call themselves the Two Pauls. The Ultimate Odd Couple. The Illumination Foundation’s own Dynamic Duo.
If they hadn’t enrolled in the UCI Health Care Executive MBA program in the fall of 2007 and sat next to each other at orientation, Paul Cho and Paul Leon most likely wouldn’t have known each other from Adam, let alone launch a nonprofit that is a safety net for the most vulnerable homeless people in Orange County — struggling families and individuals suffering mental and physical health issues.
Now, set to mark the 10th anniversary of Illumination Foundation, Cho and Leon can look back on guiding an organization that so far has provided housing and health care services to more than 28,000 individuals.
At the beginning, they contracted with hospitals to offer recuperative health care out of a few rented motel rooms and wondered how long they could sustain the effort.
Today, headquartered at a multi-service center in Stanton, Illumination Foundation provides children’s services, workforce development and health care outreach along with emergency, bridge and permanent housing in Orange and Los Angeles counties.
The nonprofit continues to leverage motels, but also has leased space for shelters, renovated large single-family homes and sought millions of dollars in federal funds for permanent supportive housing to provide what its founders believe is the beginning and end of care for the homeless: a safe place to stay.
But so much more is needed, Cho and Leon say.
That’s why the two Pauls are planning a modular-based micro housing community with a company called LifeArk that they say can be built at one-third of the time and cost for more conventional structures. It also would be cheaper than such alternatives as the shipping containers used to create the Potter’s Lane homeless village next door to Illumination Foundation’s emergency shelter in Midway City, they say.
In recognition of the leadership role Illumination Foundation has taken in serving a street population whose numbers have grown into the thousands, Cho and Leon were named Outstanding Founders for the 2017 National Philanthropy Day Orange County awards.
“Hopefully the community will see that if you build this whole collaborative system, it actually will work,” Cho said.
They say they owe the nonprofit’s success to having had no preconceived idea on how the nonprofit should operate. That allowed them to take chances and innovate. And learn as they went along.